Policing

PVD city officials comment of Sayles Street incident

“…any officer or anyone on the scene who acted inappropriate, who was unprofessional, or did not comply with our stated goal of deescalations, is going to be held accountable,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.
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Published on July 2, 2021
By Uprise RI

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Police Chief Hugh Clements held a press conference Friday morning to talk about the release of a police body camera video, the first of many to be released by the city, detailing the events that occurred on Sale Street in providence on Tuesday evening. As detailed by UpriseRI, allegations have been made by community members that Providence Police officers targeted, arrested, beat and pepper sprayed children during a call about a fight between neighbors on Sayles Street.

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In response, on Thursday evening the city released redacted police body camera video and the police report of the incident. The Friday morning press conference was held to provide context.

The incident, as recounted by Chief Clements, occurred over the pace of about three hours, with police first visiting around 6pm and returning to the scene and wrapping up around 9pm. At the height of the incident, “every patrol car and unmarked unit that was free was at the scene,” said the chief. Five arrests were made on scene – two juvenile males, two juvenile females and one adult. Pepper spray was used according to policy.

“When police arrived on the scene it was a confusing situation and what we want to do is provide the full context of what happened before, during and after to the extent that we have video,” said Mayor Elorza. “We cannot speak to specific parts of the investigation… but we can speak in general about what we saw.”

“What I saw with my eyes are two things,” continued Mayor Elorza. “On one hand you see officers that arrived, who act professionally and deescalate the situation, but you also see several instances of officers who used inappropriate language, did not deescalate the situation and simply do not reflect the police department that we strive to be.”

Promising a full investigation, Mayor Elorza added, “…any officer or anyone on the scene who acted inappropriate, who was unprofessional, or did not comply with our stated goal of deescalations, is going to be held accountable.”

“We haven’t seen all the video,” noted Commissioner Paré. “There were probably two dozens police officers with video, so… I can’t say we came to a conclusion about any use of force or behavior until [the investigation] is complete.”

One of the officers in video taken on the scene by the father of some of the children arrested by police shows a police officer, Patrick Hourahan, challenging people to step up to be arrested or pepper sprayed and saying “who wants some more?” Asked about this kind of behavior, Paré said, “He shouldn’t be talking that way. When we complete this review there will be responsibility and accountability for that. That’s not what we’re about. Understand that in the heat of the moment, there’s no excuse for that kind of language and other language that we’ve heard so far…”

UpriseRI: Two police officers were suffering from self-inflicted pepper spray. And there were many children, five and under, who were also hit by pepper spray. It seems that pepper spray is used rather indiscriminately. I’ve seen this before during some of the Black Lives Matter protests last year where officers would spray and then run through their own cloud of spray and knock themselves out of commission. Is pepper spray really the thing to use when there are tiny children nearby or the situation is that chaotic, where anybody can be hit in the vicinity?

“So we always attempt to deescalate,” said Commissioner Paré. “And whenever a five-year old or child is sprayed – one of our officers get sprayed all the time. It depends on wind. But it’s a tool that we’ve used for decades in policing and it’s a tool that doesn’t – It’s a tool that we don’t have to escalate further, using a taser and beyond that. So it’s an effective tool. People don’t like their eyes being stung by spray and most people will then leave the area. That was [the officer’s] attempt and unfortunately young children caught some of that. We have no evidence that spray was used directly at the child.”

UpriseRI: And about the woman was severely affected because she had asthma. That area is known for having some of the highest asthma rates in the state and using pepper spray there would seem to put people at risk of even death.

“Understood,” said Commissioner Paré. “We don’t know who has asthma, even as we deploy our spray. We can offer relief, as much as we can and she was transported to the hospital for medical relief. Unfortunately it’s a tool that’s really effective… We don’t go right to spray. We give verbal commands to disperse. I think you saw a little bit of that. Police officers asking – demanding – that they go back into their house and leave the area. And when we went to arrest and we needed to segregate that person, and then there was people that were encroaching, that’s our only tool to keep them back and it is effective. Unfortunately there are ramifications.”

“Some have seized on this to say the police should be defunded,” said WPRO’s Steve Klamkin.

“So we’ve heard that the last year an a half,” said Commissioner Paré. “I don’t know what that means. Abolishing the police is not an option in this country. I know there’s frustration with the police’s responsibility over the decades about responding to calls and some of those folks want diversion to people who may be better at handling mental health calls. We’re in the process of building that. But in this instance police were called because it was a public safety issue by the community to which we respond.”

“This situation is one where I don’t believe those diversion services would have been helpful,” said Mayor Elorza. “It was a tense scene.”

That said, Mayor Elorza is interested in developing a mental health response that doesn’t involve the police.

UpriseRI: Derogatory comments were made by several officers. “They’re all animals” “Is there someone who’s civilized here.” They misgendered a queer Black woman, or instance and then said some pretty horrific things about her as well. And also said those things before th arrest occurred, targeting her for being in the LGBT community.

What does that say about professionalism? What does that say about the respect the police have for the very community they’re supposed to be serving?

“Yeah, thank you for that question, Steve,” said Mayor Elorza. “I can’t speak about specific words or about specific officers, but I watched the same videos and there’s some stuff I’ve seen and I’ve heard in both videos that fall way short of the professionalism, the standards that we set for ourselves, and there are comments that instead of deescalating a situation which is our policy, actually escalates the situation.

“And there are some comments that I saw that just are unacceptable. Unacceptable in any context but specifically for a police department that seeks to continually improve and have the high standards that we have. So while I can’t speak to any particular, we are all seeing and watching the same videos, and absolutely there was some inappropriate language, there were some inappropriate things that we all so and as part of our review, we’re going to address it and make sure we hold people accountable.”

UpriseRI: Following up on that, do you think we’re still committed to reforming rather than repealing LEOBoR [the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights] because, of course, that’s one of the reasons you can’t speak specifically to this incident. It’s one of the reasons you can’t say specifically that this officer’s words were incorrect, terrible or worthy of punishment.

“As I’ve said before, I fully support completely repealing LEOBoR,” said Mayor Elorza. “Because let’s remember what LEOBoR does. LEOBoR is really not about police officers, LEOBoR is about police chiefs and it limits police chiefs’ ability to discipline their own members. We don’t place that limitation on directors of any other departments – not superintendent, not DPW directors – it’s only on police chiefs. I believe we should allow police chiefs to manage and run their own departments and that’s why I believe LEOBoR should be repealed.”

Commissioner Paré disputed accounts from the arrested children and the mothers on the scene who described an ordeal where, blinded by pepper spray and handcuffed, they were held in the back of an unventilated police van for nearly an hour in 95 degree heat. Commissioner Paré said those arrested were in the van for a half hour or less, though he did admit that the police van is not air conditioned. He also said that has no evidence that the arrested children were in need of medical help or if the officers were aware of their distress.


Camera problems messed with the audio, but here’s the press conference:

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